Big Cat handler Mr. Mark Turner was the subject of Australia Zoo’s third-ever tiger attack late last month, and underwent emergency surgery for his punctured left leg. As reported by The Australian newspaper, ‘Juma’ is the largest tiger at the Queensland-based zoo (founded by the father of the late Steve Irwin), and is not known to be aggressive. In November 2013, a different tiger at the Zoo reportedly mistook a handler for a mauling toy, and bit him on his neck.  His injury and slow recovery prevented him from working at the Zoo for months. The incidents demonstrate the occupational hazard of working with animals that have the potential to inflict serious harm.

Animal rights organisation PETA acknowledges on their website that captivity in a zoo can cause psychological distress to a wild animal, and cause them to suffer “physical and mental distress” that can cause self-destructive behaviour, which they term “zoochosis”. The NSW Government’s General Standards for Exhibiting Animals in Australia stipulate that animal handling must not compromise the safety of the handler. In response to the 2013 incident at Australia Zoo, PETA said that protective safety barriers should have been used, however this seems to be an overly cautious approach given the relative infrequency of attacks. We guess those who handle, do so at their own risk, however health and safety legislation cannot be ignored.

A risk-based approach to animal handling is always advisable!